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Common Word, Common Lord

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Most Merciful Beloved Lord

Tomorrow marks the 12th anniversary of the horrific attacks on our country in New York and Washington, D.C. I will never forget that day, and it has been burned into my memory as if it had occurred yesterday. All across our country, we shall all stop to remember the victims of that terrible act of barbarism; remember the heroes who sacrificed their own lives to save others; remember the families who have had to suffer through living life without a father, or mother, or brother, or sister, or son, or daughter.

May our Beloved be with them all.

Indeed, we will never forget what happened on that fateful day. Yet, we must also never lose hope for the future. As our country sits on the brink of another war in the Middle East, we must always strive to be the best nation we can possibly be going forward. We must never lose hope that the voices of hatred and division in our country – who are loud and obnoxious – will always be drowned out by the voices of love and unity.

Our country’s greatness always shines supreme in the end: whether it is the Americans who formed human chains around mosques after 9/11 or how communities come together after tragedies – natural and otherwise – this greatness is in her people, and we must always let this greatness shine forth for all to see.

Never forget the past, but never lose hope that our future will be better for all.

 

 

 

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

After voraciously taking in Reza Aslan’s book, Zealot, about the life and times of Jesus Christ, I decided to read his bestselling book about Islam, No god but God. Towards the end of his excellent, I must say, book Aslan wrote:

Just as the Christian Reformation opened the door to multiple, often conflicting, and sometimes baffling interpretations of Christianity, so has the Islamic Reformation created a number of wildly divergent and competing ideologies of Islam. What musts be recognized, however, is that the peaceful, tolerant, and forward-leaning Islam of an Amr Khaled and the violent, intolerant, and backward-looking Islam of an Osama bin Laden are two competing and contradictory sides of the same reformation phenomenon, because both are founded upon the argument that the power to speak for Islam no longer belongs solely to the Ulama [religious scholars]. For better or worse, that power now belongs to every single Muslim in the world.

Further writing about the role of the Internet in this reformation of Islam, he wrote that the Internet

has become a bastion for violent interpretations of Islam, and for Jihadism in particular, allowing militant preachers and propagandists to bypass the authority of the Ulama and communicate their anti-institutional message directly to Muslims across the world. And thanks to the relative anonymity of the Internet, it is often difficult to differentiate between the Ulama and the Jihadist, between the respected scholar and the dangerous dilettante.

As an admirer of Dr. Aslan’s excellent work, I must yet disagree with him on this last statement.

Indeed, there are competing narratives about what the essence of Islam is: a violent, intolerant, and backwards militant cult (upon which both Jihadist and Islamophobe oddly agree) or a peaceful, tolerant, progressive faith that inspires personal and societal greatness. Of course, I – and the overwhelming majority of Muslims like me – believe the latter. Yet, who is correct? How do we know the charlatan from the one who is telling the truth?

Jesus Christ gave the answer thousands of years ago:

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matthew 7:15-21)

So did the Qur’an:

Art thou not aware how God sets forth the parable of a good word? [It is] like a good tree, firmly rooted, [reaching out] with its branches towards the sky, yielding its fruit at all times by its Lord’s leave. And [thus it is that] God propounds parables unto humanity, so that they may bethink themselves [of the truth]. And the parable of a corrupt word is that of a corrupt tree, torn up [from its roots] onto the face of the earth, wholly unable to endure. (14:24-26)

I can tell right away the barbarian from the civilized: by the fruits of his actions and words. If the results of the “Islam” of an Osama bin Laden and those of his ilk is death, destruction, despair, murder, mayhem, and violence – as it is – then, I know that this is a “false prophet” bearing a “corrupt word” yielding a “corrupt tree.” If someone’s Islam calls for the horrific violence of the Boston Marathon bombings, then I know it is false. If a preacher on a pulpit says God commands the murder of innocent people, then I know that this preacher is a “ravening wolf” come in “sheep’s clothing.”

Yet, if I see doctors, lawyers, carpenters, shopkeepers – among so many others – who do so much good in this world because they claim Islam commands them thus, then I know that this is the truth about Islam. When I behold ordinary American Muslims, citing their Islamic devotion, cooperating  with law enforcement to foil dozens of terrorist plots, then I know that this Islam is true.

When I witness Muslims in Egypt standing to forming human chains and praying in front of Churches so they would not be attacked by hoodlums and barbarians, then I know that this Islam is the true one.

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In fact, some of those people attacking Churches claim that they do so because Islam says they must. But, I know they are liars because of the fruits of their actions:  taking life, destroying what is  sacred, and wreaking more mayhem and destruction. Whereas the former are protecting life, protecting their fellow citizens, being good neighbors, protecting the sacred, and seeking to calm a very violent situation.

So, yes, there is a battle of the narratives over what the true nature of Islam is. But it is easy to see who are the “false prophets” and “wolves in sheep’s clothing” because the end result of their claim is more evil and destruction. Thus, they cannot be claiming the truth.

In the Name of God, the Infinitely Mericful and Compassionate Beloved Lord

At the end of Ramadan, I make this prayer unto the Lord:

Beautiful, Beloved Lord our God on High!
Hallowed be Thy Name in the Heavens and the Earth!
Good is all that You do each and every second in our lives.
Limitless are You in Thy Glory, Beautiful Lord on High!

You have blessed us with another month of Ramadan, O Lord
You have given us the chance to purify ourselves and our souls
Beautiful Lord, Beautiful God, we have tried our best to live up to You!
Yet, sadly, Lord we can never do Your Grace its due justice.

And so, our Beautiful Lord our God, please bless us

Bless us as Your month of Grace comes to a close
Bless us as we eat and drink while yet the sun shines
Bless us as our normal daily routines come roaring back to life
Bless us as we try to learn the lessons of the fast we just completed.

Beautiful Lord, Beautiful God on High!

Thank You for all Your Beauty and Your Grace!
Thank You for all the times we happily broke our fasts with food and drink!
Thank You for all the plenty with which You have blessed us!
Thank You for all the bounty You have provided for us to give in charity!

Lord our God, let us be a force for good in this world!
Let us shake off the covetousness of our souls so that we can help those in need!
Let us learn the lessons of this past Ramadan so that we are better because of it!
Lord our God, do not let the only thing with which we come back from Ramadan be hunger and thirst.

And most important of all, our Beautiful, Beloved Lord our God: Forgive us.
Forgive us when we frowned at having to fast until late in the night
Forgive us when we cringed at the heat of the sun and shuddered at not being able to drink
Forgive us when we sighed and gasped out of weakness throughout those long days of summer
Forgive us for not praying and reciting and magnifying Your Name more than what we did this year.

It is only because of You that we have any good in our lives.
It is only because of You that we can be a force for good in this world.
It is only because of You that we can even fast in the first instance.

And so, Beautiful Lord our God, thank you.
And please bless each and every one of us perpetually until that glorious Day when we will meet You once again.

In Your Most Holy Name, O Lord. Amen.

In the Name of God, the Infinitely Merciful and Compassionate Lord

One of the major focuses of Ramadan – aside from fasting and the Qur’an – is prayer. Every night, Muslims are encouraged to stand and perform night vigil prayers for extra devotion to God. This is in addition to the five daily ritual prayers, which continue each day, throughout the year. It is a very nice aspect to Ramadan, and it is a ritual practice I wish I can continue after Ramadan is over. Yet, whether the prayer is one of the obligatory or devotional ones, one thing about the ritual prayer that is so amazing is its ability to bring people together.

Recently, my brother-in-law and I engaged in a profound – and frequently heated – discussion at a family gathering. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have a penchant for such…”passionate” debates. No surprise, the discussion was about the two “nuclear” topics: religion and politics. Yet, after it was all over, he and I both stood next to each other as we prayed the sunset ritual prayer together.

At that moment, we stood –  shoulder-to-shoulder as brothers –  in the Divine Presence with as much humility as we can muster. Gone was the heated exchange and (as for my part) animosity that we may have had during our argument. During that sacred time, we stood and bowed and praised God together, in perfect harmony.

That is one of the greatest aspects of the ritual prayer, especially when it is done in congregation. Whatever our differences outside of the ritual prayer, when we pray together, we all stand as one – brothers and sisters together – before our Creator in His Beautiful Presence. In all likelihood, that is one of the benefits of congregational ritual prayer: to help bring the believers together and remind them – despite all that may make us different – we are still one community of brothers and sisters all living life in the worship of our Beloved Lord.

Our world would be a much better place if we would remember more often the ritual prayer and how – with all the diversity of the individuals – we as people can still come together and worship God in peace and harmony. Would that we would take that open reminder to the remaining aspects of our lives.

In the Name of God, the Infinitely Good and Merciful

Make no mistake about it: it is hard. Very hard.

Ramadan is in full swing. Because of Islam’s sacred lunar calendar, the month of fasting will be during the summer for the next decade, and this means that Muslims must fast from about 3:30 AM until 8:30 PM. Normally, I love the long days of summer, despite their heat. Even after coming home at 6PM from a long day’s work, I still have two and a half hours of daylight during which I can play and frolic with my family.

I love the warm weather, though I can do without the oppressive heat and humidity. It is nice not to have to wear heavy jackets everywhere; not having to drive through snow, and slush, and ice, and salt; to walk out a feel the nice, warm breeze on your face.

Yet, all those great things about the summertime suddenly became dreadful on July 10, the day Ramadan began. Fasting, you see, means forgoing food and drink (even water) from dawn to sunset. Now, after I get home at 6PM, I can’t have dinner…for two and a half hours! If I “play and frolic” in that nice, warm sun while fasting, I can get even more thirsty and hungry than I already am. Gone are the days of playing golf early in the morning, before my kids wake up, because it will make me even more thirsty during the day. The lunches that are served at work are now a distant memory. No more 3PM cup of coffee, which has become one of my favorite pastimes.

Make no mistake about it: Ramadan in July is hard. Very hard.

Yet I do it anyway because…because simply I love God so much. For my entire life, He has been so good to me; He has showered His love over me and has granted me comfort with it. He has blessed me with many great things, and He has always shown me a Beautiful Face, despite the ugliness that I frequently show in return.

Thus, when He asks me to get a little hungry and thirsty for Him, how can I say “no”?

Now, of course, if one is ill or cannot physically perform the fast, he or she does not have to do so and can either make up the day later or feed a hungry person instead. Pregnant and nursing mothers are also exempt from fasting.

For those who can and do fast, however, Ramadan accomplishes many things: it allows one to contemplate over the blessings of food and drink, blessings which many people are not fortunate enough to have at will. It allows one to fix his or her character flaws, for when one is fasting, he or she must behave in a moral manner as well. It allows one to re-connect with the Divine and His Word, for each night in Ramadan, Muslims gather together to pray special night vigil prayers. It is a month of tremendous spirituality, tremendous discipline, tremendous faith, and tremendous blessing, and tremendous mercy.

But, being in July, it is one of tremendous physical hardship. Yet, whenever the heat of the day gets searing; whenever the throat becomes parched; whenever the pangs of hunger becomes unbearable, it is important to remember that it is the Beloved who has asked for this outward act of piety. Because He loves us so much and envelops us with His love each and every day, we willingly forgo food and drink in the long days of July. How can we say “no”?

In the Name of the Infinitely Good and Merciful Lord Our God

I am an American, whose ancestry hails from Egypt. I have quite a bit of family that still lives there. Both my and my wife’s parents frequently go back and visit, and my mother – in fact – is vacationing in Egypt right now. Thus, it is with great interest that I have been watching and following the events in Egypt over the past two years. Truly, I can’t avoid it, for the topic of Egyptian politics always comes up at family gatherings!

Yet, over the past several weeks and months, the things which I have been reading and watching have given me great pause…and cause for great dread. On June 30, mass protests are planned to demand for the ouster of Egypt’s President, Mohammed Morsi, and his Islamist government. Counter-rallies are also planned. Both sides are gearing up for confrontation.

Already, there are numerous reports of clashes between pro- and anti-Morsi activists.  One side calls the other “infidels”; the other side retorts by calling them “occupiers.” Tension is very thick in the air.

Thus, I can only do what I can: I appeal, in the Most Holy Name of God, to both sides to follow the better angels of their nature and reject violence.

No, I do not live in Egypt; I am not suffering through the struggles of an economy in shambles, a lack of public safety, a lack of political and social stability. I do not know what it is like to live as an average Egyptian. I pray that things in Egypt get better for everyone, so that every single person can live and thrive in peace and dignity. Yet, the stage is set for a particularly bloody Sunday, and thus I appeal to both sides to embrace peace.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the beloved, has said:

Spread peace, feed the hungry, keep up family ties, pray when others are sleeping, and you will enter Paradise safe and secure.

Jesus Christ (peace be upon him), the beloved, also has said:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

The common thread in both of these great messages and Messengers is the exhortation to peace, and so I urge both sides to follow it.

Violence will not solve anything: it will only cause more pain and suffering. Every person killed is someone’s son or daughter; or brother or sister; or father or mother. Their deaths will only add to the suffering of a nation that has already suffered so much for so long. Every major religion and every major philosophy agrees that the sanctity of human life is paramount. Thus, I urge everyone in Egypt to remember this on June 30.

I have visited Egypt on numerous occasions and am in frequent contact with friends and family there. These divisions are an aberration. Egyptians do not do this. I pray everyone involved in this difficult time in Egypt’s political history to err on the side of peace.

Murder is not Godly; murder is not holy; murder is ugly and evil, Satanic in its underpinnings. Resist and come together as one people, trying to make its country better.

Beloved, Beautiful Lord: Protect Your people in Egypt and send down Your Peace so that brother does not kill brother, and sister does not kill sister. Beloved, Beautiful Lord: Send down Your Peace on every nation on this earth, so that the tyranny and stain of violence can be purged from the face of the earth. May Your Peace reign supreme forever and ever, Beloved Lord On High.

In Your Most Holy Name I ask this, Amen.

In the Name of the God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

In the May 22/29 issue of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, there was a quite significant article published that piqued my interest as a critical care specialist. It was a randomized trial which compared early vs. late placement of a tracheostomy tube.

Many times, patients are admitted to the ICU with severe illnesses that require long stints on the ventilator, or breathing machine. Quite commonly, critical care physicians make a clinical judgment as to who will likely need long-term ventilator support. In these patients, a surgical procedure called a “tracheostomy” is performed.

This is a procedure where a small incision is made in the neck and a plastic tube is then inserted into the trachea, or windpipe. The ventilator can then be connected to that plastic tube. It is much more comfortable, and it allows for easy disconnection from the ventilator without worrying about respiratory compromise.

It has long been debated among us critical care physicians whether placing such a tube early on in the course of a prolonged critical illness is beneficial. Studies have been done trying to answer this question, and it still has remained unclear. This most recent article seemed to give an answer…and it was one that surprised me.

The study authors, based in the UK, concluded thus:

For patients breathing with the aid of mechanical ventilation treated in adult critical care units in the United Kingdom, tracheostomy within 4 days of critical care admission was not associated with an improvement in 30-day mortality or other important secondary outcomes. The ability of clinicians to predict which patients required extended ventilatory support was limited.

This means that they found very little benefit to placing a trachesotomy tube early on in a patient’s critical illness. Yet, the key phrase – from a spiritual perspective – was the last sentence: “The ability of clinicians to predict which patients required extended ventilatory support was limited.

That’s doctorspeak for: “We doctors are not God.”

For many reading this, this clearly goes without saying. Yet, there are some in my field that think otherwise. We must always remind ourselves – and science has proven this – that we are not omniscient or omnipotent. That’s why I am reticent to answer questions such as, “How long do I have to live, doctor?” or “How long do you think it will take for me to get better?”

I have no idea.

Now, my experience and scientific research can allow me to make an educated guess. But, it is just that: a guess. The medical field, especially critical care medicine, has kept me honest. There have been many a patient who, when I first examined them, I was certain were going to die and subsequently lived and walked out of the ICU.

And, unfortunately, there have been patients who I thought would do well and did not. So, when I’m asked a question that causes me to speculate about the future, I give a cautious, measured answer because – and I have to be honest with myself and the patient – I simply do not know for certain.

I tell the questioner: “You know, that’s a difficult question to answer,” but I try to give my best guess. And in my experience, I have found that patients and their families appreciate the honesty. I remember once when, before even a diagnosis was made, an ER physician told a patient who had a spot in his lung: “You have six months to live.”

As a result, he was clearly dejected by the time I saw him. I said, “Hold on…we haven’t even made a diagnosis.” And he went on to live many months after that initial meeting. I will never do something like that because there is no way I could know something like that for certain.

Bottom line, just as the study says, “The ability of clinicians to predict which patients required extended ventilatory support was limited.” In fact, you can insert any outcome into that statement and be telling the truth. We can try to guess, but we can never know anything for certain because…we are not God.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

The attack at the Boston Marathon is truly personal for me. I was blessed to finish the 2010 Chicago Marathon, in honor of my daughter who died from cancer the year before. I remember the sheer elation, despite being in tremendous pain, of being able to finish the race and cross the finish line in regulation. That medal is one my most prized material possessions.

Thus, whenever I see, or hear about, or read about any marathon, my heart is warm with joy. To learn that someone maimed and murdered innocent people who came out to cheer on complete strangers running a race, it has left a deep, searing hole in my heart.

Whoever is behind the attack – whether it be followers of a twisted mutation of a great revealed religion; or anti-government extremists; or bloodthirsty murderers – the result is the same: innocent life was taken in a most senseless and barbaric manner.

And so I send out my prayers to Boston: that the Precious Beloved shield this great and beautiful city (which I was blessed to visit 2 years ago) from any more vicious attacks; that the Precious Beloved send down His Undying Mercy to those victims who have suffered injury or loss from this tragedy; that He grace every single community with safety and protection from all who seek to cause harm; that He protect us from the fires of hatred, that are already burning, which led to this attack, and those fires of hatred that may rise up as a result of this attack as well.

Precious Beloved Lord our God, be with the city of Boston and her beautiful, glorious people during this dark time of pain and loss.

Precious Beloved Lord our God, be with us all as we mourn this horrific and terrible tragedy.

Although I know that I could never qualify to run a Boston Marathon, on this day, I am proud to say that I am a Boston Marathoner.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

This Sunday, billions of Christians around the world will celebrate what is the most important holiday of the Christian spiritual calendar: Easter. It commemorates the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is the central theological tenet of the Christian faith. As a Muslim, I will not be participating in Easter commemorations, per se. Nevertheless, it does not mean that the day means absolutely nothing to me.

Muslims also believe in and revere Jesus Christ. Not as God or God Incarnate, but he still plays a very important theological role in Islam. Yet, more than that, as a Muslim, I can see past the differences in belief between my Christian sisters and brothers and me and focus on the overarching theme: the victory over hatred and evil. And why did he win? Because right is might.

Jesus’ preaching raised the ire of many an enemy, and they sought to silence his – according to them – “dangerous ideas” by crucifying him. Yet, Jesus was doing nothing wrong. He was following God’s will and teaching what God commanded him to do. Moreover, what he taught was not dangerous at all: it called for a greater adoration for God and the attainment of a higher spiritual level. And when his enemies raised their objections, Jesus did not stop. He continued doing what he was commanded to do, because what he was doing was right in every way.

Thus, when they sought to kill him, he ultimately won by being resurrected after death (according to Christians) or raised up before crucifixion (according to Muslims). Still, the theme is the same: right is might.

This same theme applies, in fact, to all of the Prophets’ stories, including the Prophet Muhammad. In each instance, they did what God commanded them to do, despite the ire of their enemies. And all of them, to a tee, were saved by God when their enemies tried to destroy them and their missions. It is as God has decreed:

“God has thus ordained: ‘My apostles and I shall most certainly prevail.’ Verily, God is powerful [and] almighty.” (58:21)

That is because right is might, and God is always on the side of right. So many times in this world, it seems that might is right. Yet, the story of Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, and others shows that the reality is just the opposite. And the lesson we, their followers, should learn is that we must always strive to stay on the path of what is right, as best as humanly possible. It is not always easy to do, and there are many times where we will fail in that task. But, we must try the best we can.

And when we do, I know that God will be there to help us.

A most blessed Easter to all my Christian sisters and brothers and their families.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Infinitely Merciful

I join the rest of the world – Catholic and non-Catholic – Christian and non-Christian – in congratulating the Catholic Church on electing their new Pontiff, Pope Francis I. May the Lord our God guide him to all that is right and good in all of his actions. I congratulate my fellow Americans who are Catholic on the election of their new Pope, and I pray for them the very best.

It is quite interesting that the new Pope is a Jesuit, and that this new Pope took on the name of the head of another Catholic Order, the Franciscans. I pray that this sense of unity and tolerance permeates all communities of faith in the days, weeks, and years to come. I was honored to witness his announcement, and I was happy that a Jesuit became Pope. I attended Marquette University, a Jesuit institution, and I was amazed by how wonderful of teachers they are. I always have a soft spot in my heart for the men who take on the tremendous challenge of being members of the Society of Jesus.

As a Muslim, who worships the very same Lord our God, who venerates and honors our Master Jesus Christ, and who loves and honors his mother, I pray that this same sense of tolerance that the new Pope has shown spreads between our two faith communities. We may differ in our theologies, but we are still brothers and sisters in Adam, upon whom be peace. We may differ in how we worship, but we still – nevertheless – call upon the very same Deity as our Lord and Sustainer. We may look at Christ in very different ways, but we still both love and honor him nonetheless.

Indeed, I am not a Catholic or even a Christian, but I still would be blessed to be a member of the “Society of Jesus,” by which I mean a world society in which the principles of Jesus Christ – and all of God’s Prophets – are followed and implemented. Indeed, Christ’s principles are the very same of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and the Sermon on the Mount could have just as easily been given by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as it was by Christ (pbuh).

I pray that – with the election of a new Pope, Francis I – our two faith communities come together and work for the common good; to champion the rights of the less fortunate, as Cardinal Bergoglio was known to do; to work together to bring peace, prosperity, health, and wealth – both material and spiritual – to all of the world’s people. I echo the words of God, as revealed in the Qur’an, to the new Pope on this day of his election:

Unto every one of you have We appointed a [different] law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community; but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you. Compete, then, with one another in doing good works. Unto God you all must return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ (5:48).

Congratulations to all of the world’s Catholics on the election of their new Pope. God be with him, and you, and with us all. Amen.